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  • Author or Editor: Frank Louws x
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Improvement of crop water use is imperative. Plants’ responses to limited water can dictate their ability to better use available resources and avoid prolonged and severe stress. The following study was conducted to determine how tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) rootstocks with different root system morphologies respond to drying soils. Plants were grown in pots containing an inorganic substrate composed of calcined clay and sand in a greenhouse on North Carolina State University’s campus. The heirloom tomato cultivar Cherokee Purple was used as the scion for ‘Beaufort’ and ‘Shield’ rootstocks as well as the self-grafted control. These rootstocks were assigned either normal or reduced irrigation treatments. Plants grown under the normal irrigation schedule were weighed and watered daily to maintain container capacity for one week. Those receiving reduced irrigation had all water withheld for one week, at which point strong midday wilting became evident. Shoot physiological and morphological data as well as root morphological data were collected at the end of the study. A constitutive positive increase on relative water content, leaf area, stomatal conductance (g S), and net CO2 assimilation rate was observed with scions grafted on ‘Beaufort’. In addition, this rootstock had a significantly longer total root system (118.6 m) compared with ‘Shield’ (94.9 m) and the self-grafted control (104.2 m). Furthermore, 76.4% of the total root length observed in ‘Beaufort’ was composed of very thin diameter roots ( <0.5 mm), which was higher than ‘Shield’ (73.67%) and the self-grafted control (69.07%). The only significant rootstock irrigation interaction observed was for effective quantum yield of photosystem II (φPSII). At normal irrigation there were no differences among the rootstock treatments; however, at reduced irrigation ‘Beaufort’ had significantly higher φPSII than both ‘Shield’ and the self-grafted control. These results may explain some of the improved production and water use efficiency observed in field trials using ‘Beaufort’ rootstock, and data secured may allow for better screening of rootstocks for improved water use efficiency in the future.

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The following study was conducted to address water use efficiency in grafted tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) in an on-farm environment. The commercial rootstock cultivars Beaufort (BE) and Shield (S) were chosen as these two have different root system morphologies that may benefit water use efficiency. The heirloom cultivar Cherokee Purple (CP) was grafted onto both rootstocks and used as the nongrafted control. The study was conducted in 2016 and 2017 on a 5-acre vegetable and cut flower farm in North Carolina’s Piedmont region. Plants were grown under protected, high-tunnel culture where they received either 100% (3 hours every other day) or 50% (1.5 hours every other day) of the grower’s normal irrigation regime. At 50% irrigation, ‘Beaufort’-grafted plants yielded significantly more than nongrafted ‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Shield’-grafted plants. Furthermore, ‘Beaufort’-grafted plants at 50% irrigation yielded more than nongrafted ‘Cherokee Purple’ receiving the 100% irrigation treatment. The ‘Beaufort’-grafted plants significantly improved irrigation water use efficiency (iWUE) at the 50% irrigation treatment compared with the other graft treatments. Yield and iWUE of ‘Shield’-grafted plants were comparable with the nongrafted ‘Cherokee Purple’ at both irrigation treatments. Regardless of irrigation treatment, grafting onto ‘Beaufort’ improved the quality of total fruit harvested. An economic assessment was conducted to determine the feasibility of using grafted plants in conditions lacking significant disease pressure. Purchasing grafted transplants would increase the initial investment by $5227.2 per acre. However, the increased yield obtained when using ‘Beaufort’ rootstock at 50% irrigation increased net revenue by $35,900.41 per acre compared with nongrafted ‘Cherokee Purple’ receiving 100% irrigation, amounting to a 44.6% increase in net revenue while saving ≈383,242 gal/acre of water per growing season. These results indicate that growers can select rootstocks to better manage water use in an environmentally friendly manner without limiting economic gains.

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The grafting of herbaceous vegetables is an emerging development in the United States. This report provides an estimate of the variable costs of grafting within U.S. tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) transplant production systems. Grafted and nongrafted plants were propagated at two commercial farming operations in Ivanhoe, NC (NC) and Strasburg, PA (PA) and the farm in NC produced certified organic transplants. Detailed economic production sequences were generated for each site, and grafted and nongrafted transplant production costs were $0.59 and $0.13 in NC, and $1.25 and $0.51 in PA, respectively. Direct costs associated with grafting (e.g., grafting labor, clips, chamber, etc.) accounted for 37% to 38% of the added cost of grafting, and grafting labor was 11.1% to 14.4% of the cost of grafted transplant production. Seed costs represented 52% and 33% of the added cost of grafting at the two sites, and indirect costs (e.g., soil, trays, and heating) accounted for 10% and 30% of the added cost of grafting. Our findings suggest that under current seed prices and with similar production practices, the feasibility of grafting in the United States is not disproportionately affected by domestic labor costs. Additionally, the economic models presented in this report identify the cost of production at various transplant stages, and provide a valuable tool for growers interested in grafted tomato transplant production and utilization.

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Compost sources were used to determine long-term influence on common vegetable cropping systems (tomato, pepper, and cucumber). Three sources of Controlled Microbial Compost (CMC) (20 yd3/A) amended with fumigant Telone-C35 (35 gal/A) and Trichoderma-382 [2.5 oz/yd.3 (T-382)] were used during 3 consecutive years. Tomato showed statistic differences (1%) among compost treatments with higher total yields when CMC was combined with Telone-C35 (21%) and T-382 (8.2%). All treatments but Bio-Compost and control presented al least 25% more marketable yield per acre. No differences in fruit size were found for tomato, except for medium-size fruit when Telone C-35 was added. The CMC alone or combined with Telone C-35 and T-382 increased the total plant dry weight at least 18.6%. Pepper crop showed statistic differences with higher number of No. 1 fruit size when CMC was combined with Telone C-35 and T-382. Number of culls per acre decreased for all three compost sources, with no differences from the control. Cucumber yields differed among treatments for total and marketable yields and No.1 size fruit per acre. Best yields were achieved with CMC and when mixed with Telone C-35 and T-382. The lower numbers of culls per acre were found with Bio-Compost and Lexington sources and CMC+T-382. Total plant dry weight was increased in at least 24% when Bio-Compost or CMC compost were used alone or combined with Telone-C35 or T-382. CMC increased root knot nematode soil counts and percentage of root galling, but tended to improve root vigor in cucumbers. It seems that compost sources combined with Telone C-35 or T-382 could improve the cropping management as alternative to methyl bromide. Weed responses will also be discussed.

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In this study, we conducted an economic analysis of high tunnel and open-field production systems of heirloom tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) based on a two-year study at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) located in Goldsboro, eastern North Carolina. The research site was transitional organic using organically certified inputs and practices on land not yet certified. Production costs and returns were documented in each system and provide a useful decision tool for growers. Climatic conditions varied dramatically in 2007 compared with 2008 and differentially affected total and marketable yields in each system. Profits were higher in the open-field system and the high tunnels in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Sensitivity analysis was conducted using a range of market prices from $1.60/lb to $3.60/lb and a range of fruit marketability levels from 35% to 80%. Both systems were profitable except at the lowest price point and the lowest percent marketability level in high tunnel in 2007. At $2.60/lb, seasonal average sale price reported by growers for this region, and depending on percent marketability levels, the payback period for high tunnels ranged from two to five years. Presented sensitivity tables will enable decision makers to knowledgably estimate economic potential of open-field and high tunnel systems based on expected local prices and fruit quality parameters.

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Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) is a warm-season, cold-sensitive crop that shows slower growth and development at temperatures below 18 °C. Improving suboptimal temperature tolerance would allow earlier planting of field-grown tomato and a reduction in energy inputs for heating greenhouses. Grafting tomato onto high-altitude Solanum habrochaites (S. Knapp and D.M. Spooner) accessions has proven effective at improving scion suboptimal temperature tolerance in limited experiments. This study was conducted to determine whether commercially available tomato rootstocks with differing parental backgrounds and root system morphologies can improve the tolerance of scion plants to suboptimal temperature. Two controlled environment growth chambers were used and maintained at either optimal (25 °C day/20 °C night) or suboptimal (15 °C day/15 °C night) temperatures. The cold-sensitive tomato cultivar Moneymaker was used as the nongrafted and self-grafted control as well as scion grafted on ‘Multifort’ (S. lycopersicum × S. habrochaites), ‘Shield’ (S. lycopersicum), and S. habrochaites LA1777 rootstocks. Plants were grown for 10 days in 3.8 L plastic containers filled with a mixture of calcined clay and sand. ‘Multifort’ rootstock significantly reduced the amount of cold-induced stress as observed by larger leaf area and higher levels of CO2 assimilation and photosystem II quantum efficiency. ‘Multifort’ had significantly longer roots, having 42% to 56% more fine root (diameter less than 0.5 mm) length compared with the other nongrafted and grafted treatments. Leaf starch concentration was significantly lower in ‘Multifort’-grafted plants at suboptimal temperatures compared with the self-grafted and nongrafted controls and the ‘Shield’-grafted plants at the same temperature. The ability for ‘Multifort’ to maintain root growth at suboptimal temperatures may improve root system sink strength, thereby promoting movement of photosynthate from leaf to root even under cold conditions. This work demonstrates that a commercially available rootstock can be used to improve suboptimal temperature tolerance in cold-sensitive ‘Moneymaker’ scions.

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Grafting watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is a common practice in many parts of the world and has recently received increased interest in the United States. The present study was designed to evaluate early season growth, yield, and fruit quality of watermelon in response to grafting and in the absence of known disease pressure in a fumigated system. Field experiments were conducted using standard and mini watermelons (cv. Exclamation and Extazy, respectively) grafted onto 20 commercially available cucurbit rootstocks representing four species: giant pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima), summer squash (Cucurbita pepo), bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), and interspecific hybrid squash [ISH (C. maxima × Cucurbita moschata)]. Nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ and ‘Extazy’ were included as controls. To determine early season growth, leaf area was measured at 1, 2, and 3 weeks after transplant (WAT). At 1 WAT, nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ produced the smallest leaf area; however, at 3 WAT, nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ produced the largest leaf area in 2015, and no differences were observed in 2016. Leaf area was very similar among rootstocks in the ‘Extazy’ study, with minimal differences observed. Marketable yield included fruit weighing ≥9 and ≥3 lb for ‘Exclamation’ and ‘Extazy’, respectively. In the ‘Exclamation’ study, highest marketable yields were observed in nongrafted ‘Exclamation’, and ‘Exclamation’ grafted to ‘Pelops’, ‘TZ148’, and ‘Coloso’, and lowest marketable yields were observed when using ‘Marvel’ and ‘Kazako’ rootstocks, which produced 47% and 32% of nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ yield, respectively. In the ‘Extazy’ study, the highest marketable yield was observed in nongrafted ‘Extazy’, and ‘Kazako’ produced the lowest yields (48% of nongrafted ‘Extazy’). Fruit quality was determined by measuring fruit acidity (pH), soluble solids concentration (SSC), lycopene content, and flesh firmness from a sample of two fruit from each plot from the initial two harvests of each year. Across both studies, rootstock had no effect on SSC or lycopene content. As reported in previous studies, flesh firmness was increased as a result of grafting, and nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ and ‘Extazy’ had the lowest flesh firmness among standard and mini watermelons, respectively. The present study evaluated two scions with a selection of 20 cucurbit rootstocks and observed no benefits in early season growth, yield, or phytonutrient content. Only three of 20 rootstocks in each study produced marketable yields similar to the nongrafted treatments, and no grafted treatment produced higher yields than nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ or ‘Extazy’. Because grafted seedlings have an associated increase in cost and do not produce increased yields, grafting in these optimized farming systems and using fumigated soils does not offer an advantage in the absence of soilborne pathogens or other stressors that interfere with watermelon production.

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Grafting of watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is an established production practice that provides resistance to soilborne diseases or tolerance to abiotic stresses. Watermelon may be grafted on several cucurbit species (interspecific grafting); however, little research exists to describe root systems of these diverse rootstocks. A greenhouse study was conducted to compare root system morphology of nine commercially available cucurbit rootstocks, representing four species: pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima), squash (Cucurbita pepo), bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), and an interspecific hybrid squash (C. maxima × C. moschata). Rootstocks were grafted with a triploid watermelon scion (‘Exclamation’), and root systems were compared with nongrafted (NG) and self-grafted (SG) ‘Exclamation’. Plants were harvested destructively at 1, 2, and 3 weeks after transplant (WAT), and data were collected on scion dry weight, total root length (TRL), average root diameter, root surface area, root:shoot dry-weight ratio, root diameter class proportions, and specific root length. For all response variables, the main effect of rootstock and rootstock species was significant (P < 0.05). The main effect of harvest was significant (P < 0.05) for all response variables, with the exception of TRL proportion in diameter class 2. ‘Ferro’ rootstock produced the largest TRL and root surface area, with observed values 122% and 120% greater than the smallest root system (‘Exclamation’ SG), respectively. Among rootstock species, pumpkin produced the largest TRL and root surface area, with observed values 100% and 82% greater than those of watermelon, respectively. These results demonstrate that substantial differences exist during the initial 3 WAT in root system morphology of rootstocks and rootstock species available for watermelon grafting and that morphologic differences of root systems can be characterized using image analysis.

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Partial budget analysis was used to evaluate soil treatment alternatives to methyl bromide (MeBr) based on their efficacy and cost-effectiveness in the production of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum). The analysis was conducted for the mountain tomato production region based on 6 years of field test data collected in Fletcher, NC. Fumigation alternatives evaluated included 61.1% 1,3-dichloropropene + 34.7% chloropicrin (Telone-C35™), 60.8% 1,3-dichloropropene + 33.3% chloropicrin (InLine), 99% chloropicrin (Chlor-o-pic), 94% chloropicrin (TriClor EC), 42% metam sodium (4.26 lb/gal a.i., Vapam), and 50% iodomethane + 50% chloropicrin (Midas). The MeBr formulation was 67% methyl bromide and 33% chloropicrin (Terr-O-Gas). Chloropicrin applied at 15 gal/acre provided the greatest returns with an additional return of $907/acre relative to MeBr. Telone-C35 provided an additional return of $848/acre and drip-applied metam sodium provided an additional return of $137/acre. The return associated with broadcast applied metam sodium was about equal to the estimated return a grower would receive when applying MeBr. Fumigating with a combination of chloropicrin and metam sodium; shank-applied chloropicrin at 8 gal/acre; drip-applied chloropicrin, Midas, or InLine; and the nonfumigated soil treatment all resulted in projected losses of $156/acre, $233/acre, $422/acre, $425/acre, $604/acre, and $2133/acre, respectively, relative to MeBr. Although technical issues currently associated with some of the MeBr alternatives may exist, results indicate that there are economically feasible fumigation alternatives to MeBr for production of tomatoes in North Carolina.

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